The Six, directed by Arthur Jones, is a Chinese documentary about the Titanic and its hidden stories, with James Cameron as Executive Producer.
The headline above signals a new direction for the future of global film industry. Indeed, the capital has now shifted from Hollywood to China in the past decade. More and more filmmakers are looking at this rising market for opportunities. Arthur Jones was there ahead of everyone else. Originally from Yorkshire, Jones went to China almost 20 years ago, at the inception of its economic boom. He wrote for Screen International and later for the Variety between 2001 and 2007, while setting up his own production company for documentary. Before The Six, Jones worked on several projects as both a producer and writer. He then directed A Farewell Song (2006) and The Poseidon Project (2013). This is his third feature documentary as director.
The initial project secured its finance by trending on Chinese social medias with over millions of views for its development video in 2017. The Chinese netizen were fascinated about the subject. After its exposure, the project attracted many interests. If there is a dream example to champion film collaboration between the two sides, The Six is the ultimate case study. It offers even more, as it also involves research, interviews and talents from America. In our ever increasingly politicised reality, The Six shows another perspective that counters current heated rhetoric of ‘China threat’. It reveals the forgotten history about injustice toward the overseas Chinese community and their hardship to survive.
Many documentary films have made about the Titanic, but no film has paid attention to the Chinese survivors. The opening of the film tells us about the truth, there were in fact six Chinese survivors who managed to escape the shipwreck. Presenter and researcher Steven Schwankert leads us to an investigation journey. James Cameron reveals, the scene where Rose was rescued in his film came from a real event. The person rescued in this event, was in fact a Chinese man called Fang Lang from Hong Kong. This discovery is only a beginning. Presenter Steven and the film crew visited Fang’s son Tom in America, but it appeared that he knew nothing regarding this story about his father. Why did Fang Lang change his name? What happened to him after being rescued and where was he sent to? The film opens up a new series of enquiries, in parallel to five other stories to unfold.
How come no one has mentioned about these six Chinese survivors from the Titanic? These hidden stories lead to some historical events that for many years, exploited the Chinese community overseas. These include the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882 – 1943) in the US and also other equivalent acts in Canada and in the UK. That’s where the story now connects with Britain. It is quite possible that two of these survivors were migrant workers who had to leave the UK due to a rising anti-immigration sentiment. Titanic just happened to be the only boat that they could get on at that time. There is more to this Sino-British connection, which is perhaps the most touching part of the film. Tom now visits Titanic hero Harold Lowe’s grandson John in Conwy. Harold was the one who rescued Fang originally. Tom pays respect to John and John responses: “the circle is now complete”.
There is a lot that The Six inspires us to think about, in particular around today’s international relations between countries. As Jones shared with us in a recent interview, that China has a lot to offer to documentary filmmakers. There are many stories to be told about this place. The Six is such a unique and epic story but at the same time, it touches on a very basic level of human connection. The fundamental challenge in survival is universal, no matter where you are from.
Making a film for the Chinese market has proved to be difficult as not even Hollywood gets it right every time. Maybe sometimes it is not always about making money from the box-office. Filmmaking, regardless fiction or documentary, is about telling a story which can unite our spirit while we are threatened to be separated further and further apart in real life.
The Six is and will remain a provocative example to invite us to think about these questions.
When the music starts to play and the credits begin to roll, you will be in tears without realising. It is not only about what the overseas Chinese have gone through in this deadly tragedy and beyond. It is an overwhelming feeling which combines a sense of sadness and hope – there is a lot we can do to make this world a better place, together.
For that advocacy, it also applies to contemporary film reviewing culture. Current film critics who write in English for major medias are a little confused regarding how to approach films made in or financed by China. The world has moved on and so shall the critics.
The Six, scheduled for a nation-wide release (11,000+ cinemas) in China on April 16 by QC Media, is about to make history that no other British filmmakers have achieved before.